I’ve talked so much in this outgoing loan column about the traveling works themselves, and the many different contexts they inhabit beyond the expanses of MoMA’s walls. But I’ve yet to address just how the works get to their destinations. It’s no secret that fine art is crated, shipped by special art-handling companies, and covered by specific art insurance policies…but did you know that some works are personally escorted by Museum staff? This week I talked to two curatorial assistants from the Department of Painting and Sculpture who have been on a handful of courier trips, as we call them, to all corners of the globe. Carla Bianchi is part of a team at MoMA that handles all matters of our loan program, from the moment an official request is received to the time a work finally returns to MoMA, sometimes years later. Nora Lawrence supports exhibitions in our department; recently she worked with Ann Temkin on the catalogue and installation for Monet’s Water Lilies.
Posts by Lida Sunderland
Much of the dust—er, ash—has settled in Europe, and those marooned there by Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano are trickling back home. Nonetheless, when airspace was finally cleared mid–last week, there were reports of half-empty planes returning from some of the most afflicted cities, such as Zurich and London. I know a handful of people whose airlines will not honor tickets at their original prices until April 29 or later, so perhaps this in part explains the sparsely populated jets. But one must also consider the Europeans who may have canceled trips and vacations to the States completely. How many of those people will therefore miss a planned trip to MoMA, I wonder?!? It is with this concern in mind that I drafted this MoMA Offsite entry. Perhaps it’s too rash to predict for Europe the trend of the “stay-cation” (which swept our nation last year due to factors altogether different, of course), but nonetheless I’d like our members, friends, and supporters there to know that many MoMA works are on view in Europe at this time.
In this column I have often discussed the efforts made by the Department of Painting and Sculpture to circulate works in our collection galleries as frequently as we can manage, thereby showing the broadest possible range of our extensive holdings. All of our works are historically significant in their own way; still, we do recognize that there are dedicated audiences for certain landmark acquisitions made by the Museum, and so there are a few works that remain on view indefinitely. Les Demoiselles D’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso, The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh, and Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory (1931) certainly all fall into this category.
I distinctly remember my first visit to the new MoMA building. I was nineteen and had just celebrated my first New York City anniversary (so I am of the generation that cannot clearly recall MoMA in its pre-2004 guise). Of the many snapshots in my mind from that day, none is as vivid as the vision of Henri Matisse’s 1909 painting Dance (I). As some may remember, it was hanging in an interior stairwell that joined the fourth- and fifth-floor galleries. In addition to being viewable from those stairs, it could also be glimpsed through a window that opened up to the Marron Atrium below, and that is how I first saw it. As I rounded a corner and entered the space, cosmic in size, I raised my head and the familiar piece of history slowly unfurled above me, and I let a smile unfurl with it.
Institutions that engage in munificent and far-reaching lending forge important collegial relationships with one another, and in the process help to create a network of public spaces with dynamic, diverse programming. Rarely, however, are these relationships sanctioned in any official capacity, which is what makes the affiliation between MoMA and P.S.1 so special. The two joined forces in 2000, with the goal to “promote the enjoyment, appreciation, study, and understanding of contemporary art to a wide and growing audience.” In the last ten years the institutions have worked together in many ways, but 1969, an exhibition on view at P.S.1 through April 5, is the first time that a group exhibition at the Long Island City center has been drawn entirely from MoMA’s collection.
Occupying an entire floor at P.S.1, the exhibition features some eighty objects representing all seven of MoMA’s departmental collections plus the Museum Archives. I was delighted to discover dozens of works for the first time, as well as to embrace long cherished images that I had never before seen in person. Just as gratifying was seeing several works—works that MoMA visitors are surely familiar with—in a new context.
In my last MoMA Offsite (which, as it happens, was also the first-ever MoMA Offsite), I set the agenda for this column, which is to reveal and discuss MoMA collection works on loan to other institutions. I chose to explore both works that are infrequently on view here at Fifty-third Street as well as those that are regular residents in our galleries, assuming that each entry would take me to different artists from different time periods, featured in different shows in different parts of the world. But in the infancy of this mission I am already going to break the pattern by speaking exclusively this week about one artist and one show, just up the road: Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, on view at The Jewish Museum through March 14.
My coworker Paulina Pobocha’s recent post discussing a new painting acquisition made casual mention of a staggering fact: at any given moment, MoMA is only able to display some 10 to 15 percent of its collection. This is due to limitations of space, plain and simple. Our acquisitions practices are necessarily limited by these same constraints, and though we continue to carefully maintain and build upon our collection, we cannot acquire nearly as many works as we may wish. Despite our frequent gallery rotations, there are inevitably pieces that spend too much time in crates in Queens.
The Museum counteracts this by being a generous lending institution. At present, more than 170 works from the Department of Painting and Sculpture alone are off-site. This number includes both works that are infrequently exhibited and those that visitors may be accustomed to seeing on a more regular basis.
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